Filipino Names and Nicknames

November 19, 2010

One way to introduce a foreign visitor to Filipino culture is to present him or her to as many people as you can: hearing the names of your Uncle Boy, your Aunt Baby, your cousin Ding-Dong, your sister Len-Len and your friend Cherry Pie would be a novel experience—confusing, fascinating and eye-opening (and not necessarily in that order).

Most Filipino parents name their children the way an entrepreneur would brand a product: it’s a serious business. The chosen name has to be unique or creative; otherwise, they will opt for something familiar or, maybe, a little old-fashioned or generic, if not downright plain. But then they will attach one or two more names to the first without giving any thought to how the poor child will be able to write Hannah Antoinette Katharina Romualdez in a grade 1 pad, much less remember and spell them all correctly.

The subject of names and naming has become an enduring source of amusement and awe as well as a cultural eye-opener for the unsuspecting foreign visitor. That Girlie is actually the name of more than a hundred girls in the country, or that even if they grow up to be adult women they will always be Girlies, is not exactly something that they can read in a travel guide.

*I Kid You Not
One of the first things that strike foreigners is the reality that in this side of the world, there are actually people who grow into adulthood with names like Sonny Boy, Lovely Girl, Baby Joy, Honey Boy, Jimmy Boy, anything that can be attached with Boy, Girl or Baby or anything that sounded cute or pretty, like Peachy, Apple, and Precious.

*Theme Trend
There is an interesting trend of parents sticking to a “theme” when naming their children, which can run the gamut from making them all begin with the same letter (Anna, Allen, Aries), playing with rhymes or sounds (Carlo, Carla, Ella, Elias), sticking to a same first or second name (Mary Ann, Mary Joy, Julie Marie, Hanna Marie), to using calendar months (April, July, February), flowers (Jasmine, Chrysanthemum, Rose), fruits (Apple, Grapes, Cherry), or places (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne).

*Name Combo
There’s Luzviminda (from the 3 main islands of the Philippines: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao), Jejomar (from Jesus, Joseph and Mary), and then there’s the “parents combo”. Filipinos are known to be romantic people with a natural inclination towards familial intimacy, and this may have caused the phenomenon of “couple names”. For example, Joy and Eric = Jeric, Bernard and Virgie = Bernie, Dennis and Anna = Deanna. Inspired by the boyfriend-girlfriend tradition of attaching the anniversary dates to these composite creations, some of these ingenious names are handed down to the children; but as is life in general, not everyone is lucky. Imagine a child with a father named Lucio and mother named Jennifer…

*What the H?
Then there is that curious, trying-to-be-subtle-but-not-quite, superfluous “h” designed to give even the most extraordinary names a special touch. Examples: Ghemma, Jhun, Kathrina, Jhoel, Lhenn, Jhoy

But perhaps the most unusual thing that strike foreign visitors about the whole name business is that everyone in the Philippines seems to have a nickname. And the variety of nicknames that Filipinos can come up with never fails to confuse, amuse and amaze them.

*Repeat again
Most foreigners are simply befuddled why Filipinos love to shorten names (eg. Patricia = Pat) only to repeat the syllable (Pat-Pat); or to repeat syllables that usually don’t have any resemblance to the real name, like Ging Ging, Bing Bing, Ning Ning, Toto, Popo, Lek Lek, Jek Jek.

*Who’s there?
And then there are the “doorbell names”, like Ding Dong, Bong Bong, Ting Ting, Ding Ding, Bong, Ping, some of which often sound “different” to the unfamiliar foreign ears. Ask American celebrity Khloe Kardashian what she thought of when Ding Dong Dantes was included in a countdown of the sexiest men in the world. Apparently, “ding dong” or “dong” is a slang word in the US and in other countries.

*That day in history
Some parents make up nicknames just because they find it cute or affectionate. But some have stories behind them. A person affectionately called “Balot” might have a mother who liked to eat balut when she was pregnant and believed that the harmless egg delicacy was the reason why his son was born almost bald.

Of course, there are nicknames that are simply derived from the names, although how Ricardo became Carding, Carmencito to Totoy, Jose Rizal to Pepe, no one could probably explain. Apparently, the Filipinos’ creativity is boundless. Where else in the world can you find a senator named Joker? (No joke, that’s his real name.) Where else can you find an archbishop (God bless his soul) humorously named Jaime Sin? (“Jaime” is supposedly a variant of “James”, which means “one who supplants”). Of course, only in the Philippines.

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